When grief shows a shore

Colum McCann’s “Apeirogon” goes berserk in the ocean of grief and yet rising above the waves in this shoreless ocean is extraordinary hope

March 12, 2020 03:52 pm | Updated 03:52 pm IST

“Apeirogon means a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. It was a startling word when I first stumbled upon it. And what it really means in relation to the story which is about two men who lose their daughters, is that we are all involved… one is Palestinian and one is Israeli and they travel the world around, sharing the story of what happened to their daughters in order to harness the power of their grief. We are implicit in a certain way, we are all touched by it…somehow we are part of every story,” says Colum McCann expalining the title of his book.

The story of Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, “…spins out in every different direction but always comes back to the two girls, Smadar who was 14 or 13 when she died and Abir who was 10 when she dies. Smadar died in a suicide bombing and Abir died from a rubber bullet that hit her in the back of her head,” says McCann. He continues, “And these two fathers came together and for years and years now they have been travelling the West Bank, Israel, around the world, trying to tell the story in order to say…as they would say in Arabic.. khalas , enough. And it is time for us to know one another and if we don’t tell our stories we wont know one another. And if we don’t know one another all this fear is going to come tumbling in upon us. And as Bassam says, “If we don’t know each other above ground the only place we will know each other is above ground.”

McCann recollects, “The men are real. I knew the moment I met them that things are never going to be really the same for me…these two ordinary men begin to speak and I realise they are not ordinary men, they are extraordinary…and I, embarrassingly, started to weep…They wrote on a napkin:let us harness the power of your grief. I did not know that I could ever write about them, but they kept coming back to me. So this is a spirit of hybrid novel…the men will be going on tour with me. They allowed me to go in and rewrite some of the things…I am not interested, neither are they, in the absoluteness of facts. Facts are mercenary things…text, emotional text is completely different and that is what I have tried, to capture the emotions…we are a lot more complexed than our political parties think we should be, a lot more nuanced.”

Pleading the need for peace in such a beautiful manner, McCann says, “It is a heartbreaking story…For any parent it is very difficult to lose a child…so difficult that we do not even have a word for it in the English language…and yet there is extraordinary hope in the two men…”

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